Behavioural interventions Habit Spotlight

Saving the environment, one coffee cup at a time

Novoradovskaya, E., Mullan, B., Hasking, P., & Uren, H. (2020). My Cup of Tea: Behaviour Change Intervention to Promote Use of Reusable Hot Drink Cups. Journal of Cleaner Production, 124675.

In a nutshell: People are more likely to use a reusable coffee cup habitually when the information on how damaging paper cups are for the environment is demonstrated together with provision of a solution – a reusable cup.

Most of us believe that single-use coffee cups are recyclable, but paper cups are not in fact made of just paper – majority of them are covered in a layer of plastic on the inside to prevent leaks. Hence, they cannot be recycled and end up in landfill – around 16 billion every year globally!

There is something we can do about it, luckily: use reusable cups. For enthusiastic coffee drinkers, this behaviour has a potential of becoming habitual (automatic, done without thinking), which can save us precious cognitive energy needed for more complicated tasks, such as work.

We conducted a behaviour change intervention to increase the use of reusable cups through three different psychological mechanisms: environmental values (providing information on how paper cups are not recyclable); intention (setting a goal for using a reusable cup regularly); and habit (making your reusable cup a cue that triggers the behaviour). We found that activating people’s environmental values together with providing a solution to the problem (all participants received reusable cups) is the most effective strategy to keep using reusable cups over a period of 6 weeks. And interestingly, this happened through developing a habit.

In the end, provision of information about detrimental consequences of everyday behaviours together with offering a solution is a promising avenue for promotion of pro-environmental behaviours. We can help our planet each day, even if only one cup at a time.

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